part 2 of the conversation around Ferguson

Posted: September 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

When I promised to write about Ferguson, I reckon I misspoke.  The fact is, I have never been in Ferguson, and I believe that it has become nearly impossible at this point in our culture to find a trustworthy news source.  Everyone is telling a story, everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to sell and an axe to grind.  Anything I might try to say specifically  about the awful things that went down in Ferguson would be based on things I saw or heard second-hand at best, and would be colored by my own general leanings.  I’ll leave that one alone.

Still, the simple truth is that we would do well as a culture to look harder at where we are, where race relations in the United States are concerned.  Look harder, try harder, and stop telling ourselves convenient lies.  

I can’t tell the story from the perspective of a person of color.  What I think about that is this:  decency dictates that I owe a debt of trying to understand.  I owe things like intentional empathy, getting educated about other people’s situations, and putting myself in the other’s shoes, even when I couldn’t possibly disagree more strongly with the other, just to see what I might see, from their perspective.  

I’m a white lady from the middle class.  That means there are endless perspectives that life has never insisted I take even the smallest peek at.  Fairness and justice won’t chase me down and hold my eyelids open or sear truth into my brain.  If I so choose, I can say to myself that the suffering of others who are not like me is their own fault – that their struggle is self-induced, and that if they’d just act more like me, bad things wouldn’t happen to them.  I can say that to myself, and a chorus of a million voices will chime in and agree.  

I can say that everyone in the world who is unhappy with their lot in life brought it on themselves, or at least they are failing to pick themselves up and move on out of it – as if I have the slightest idea what it might take to move on out.  I can think of all the ways I never was oppressed, and suppose that the reason is that I earned better, or tried harder, or worked smarter.  I can take credit for the oceans of grace and mercy from which I have benefited, seeing it as my right, and turning a blind eye to the rights of other human beings who appear to be benefiting far less than I do.  I can think those things, and say those things, and many a so-called self-made person will raise their fist and cheer in solidarity with me.  Quit yer whinin’ and change your world!

Or I can imagine what it is like to know that my son will be feared by some, just because of the color of his skin, no matter how well he behaves – that his stepping onto an elevator might cause little white ladies to disembark, or to peer nervously at one another.  

I can imagine what it is like to be watched as if I were a thief, just because I dared to walk through a store in a neighborhood where most people’s skin is lighter than mine.

I can consider how it would feel to be summarily dismissed because my name isn’t a standard white-sounding name – how I would feel, in such a case, about people’s “right” to have disparaging opinions about my NAME, for God’s sake – not a moral issue, not even a fashion issue – just the name my parents chose for me.

I can think about how looking professional, successful, and hire-worthy so often boils down to making one’s features and fashions as white as possible – what must it feel like, to be required to deny my own racial heritage if I want to get ahead?

I worked in a domestic violence shelter for a couple of years.  We got a black girl in her 20s in once.  She had been in and out of foster care, throughout her childhood.  Her mama was black; her father was white.  Her mama had quite a number of other children; this girl was the only one with a white daddy.  Her mama prized her as the smartest and best-behaved, the one with the most potential, specifically and spoken aloud because of her white daddy.  I watched the racism WITHIN this girl, working against her…how she prized her white heritage, and despised her black side, and there she was, stuck inside of very dark skin, all bruised and battered, and hating herself more than any abuser could hate her.  I still think of her often, and of how the race conversation was inside of her, two halves of her at war with one another, the war spoken into existence by her mother and others.  It’s hard for me to imagine that girl ever discovering how to love herself at all.  I never hated racism as much as I did and do every time I remember that girl.  

I attended the Global Leadership Summit recently. A pastor named Wilfredo de Jesus spoke about how he talked Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel into donating some ambulances to be sent to his home country, where there was desperate need.  After the ambulances were donated, it occurred to the pastor – we need a bill of sale.  If the police see these Puerto Rican guys driving 4 ambulances across the country and there is no bill of sale, what kind of trouble will we have?  See…the only white people I ever knew that had to worry about things like that were trafficking drugs.  But this pastor was talking about GOOD guys, still having to worry about being seen as thieves.  Because they weren’t white.  That this would be the case in modern day USA is offensive to me.  You understand, this was not the point of the pastor’s story – he was telling a “good God” story.  The racism was just woven in, just an incidental.  That is sad.  

It’s easy to sit in the nice, comfortable place of what some deem the “master race,” whether they do so openly or just quietly in their unspoken consciousness, and judge.  Easy to ask how people of color dare be angry, why can’t they just get over it.  Easy to say that all that slavery stuff was long ago and has nothing to do with today.  Easy to watch “black” mannerisms and irritably think that those folks should settle down and act more white, without even framing it in such racist terms.  Easy to assume that “playing nicely” gets the same results, no matter what the color of one’s skin.  It’s all easy, from the “only ever been white” perspective, because we’ve never had to experience the other side.  

A day approaches when that will no longer be so.  Demographers have been saying for years now:  white folks will NOT be the majority much longer, even here in the USA.  How are white folks going to feel, when we are the minority being judged solely or at least mostly on the color of our skin?  I think we aren’t well-practiced for it.  I think we won’t like experiencing it from the other side.  I think we mostly won’t be willing to own how much of the hostility we will have earned – will have brought on ourselves.  I think that even many of those who are willing to learn, willing to be open, willing to change perspectives, will get the bitter treat of learning too late, and holding the regret of not having been more gracious, when we held the power.  

I wish we’d try harder to really see each other.  

I wish we’d stop getting so stumbled on externals.

I wish we’d totally trash the notion that acting, looking, or sounding “white” has any higher value than acting, looking, or sounding black, Latino, Asian, Chinese, etc.  

I wish we lived in a culture where everyone was so racially evolved that NO ONE would think it was funny to post a photo of former President Reagan in his actor days, with a monkey in his lap, and joke that it is a photo of “Obama as a child on Reagan’s lap.”  

I’m tired of wanting to reach through the computer screen and throttle people – even and often people that I like, love, and care about, for awful notions that are begun with the thought, “I’m not a racist, but…”  

Most of all, I wish I were as racially evolved as I want the whole world to be.  I wish I didn’t have to work at it – to purposely dispel ridiculous thoughts and judgments that try to get air time in my head.  

It’s exhausting, really. I hope you didn’t come here for value, because I don’t have value to add, on this front.  I could rant like this for hours, but I don’t know how to say it in a way that will help well-intentioned people who don’t know they are racists to at least come to terms with this truth, and start letting it be changed in them.  

That’s all I got, folks.  Sorry if you were hoping for more.  God have mercy on us all.  

  1. laurie says:

    Thankyou for these words. Guilty, guilty, and guilty. Lord Keep Making Me is a song, but a prayer I have grabbed and can only plead for from Jehovah. Thanking Him for you and using you constantly as a reminder of oh soooo many issues He wants to deal with in me in my mess.

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